While the debate rages on as to whether Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is the best player of this generation, there's a popularity contest being staged on Facebook between the Real Madrid and Barcelona superstars, and it's not even close.

This week Ronaldo became the first athlete in any sport to reach 50 million "likes" on Facebook. Messi is in second place with about 38.5 million "likes", while David Beckham sits in third place with 21.5 million.

If all the people who "liked" Ronaldo formed their own country, it would be the 25th most populous nation on earth.

In terms of American athletes, Michael Jordan tops the list with 20 million "likes." Kobe Bryant is six million "likes" behind Jordan, and LeBron James sits in third with 12.5 million "likes."

Ronaldo is about 12 million "likes" behind the most liked celebrity, Rihanna (62 million). After Rihanna are Eminem (61.5 million), Shakira (55 million), Lady Gaga (53.3 million) and Michael Jackson (52 million).

But Ronaldo is ahead of Katy Perry (48 million) and Justin Bieber (47 million).

The Portuguese footballer posted this note thanking his fans:

Reaching 50.000.000 likes is unbelievable ...I want to thank you, you you, you and everyone who have been supporting me all these years. I really want us to keep sharing all the good moments together - and the best is still to come. THANK YOU ALL

Naturally, a quarter of a million people liked his status within 24 hours.

(H/T to World of Sport)

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